Stare Death in the Snout
By Liam Gibson
It only lasts a split-second. A flash of something that couldn’t be. What nature so patiently assembled, so hastily disassembled by the thump of a bumper. Legs don’t belong there. Heads aren’t meant to turn that way. The vultures hop a little as you pass, then return to their hooked pickings. This is their house. You’re just passing through.
Cycling in America has many upsides. The endless, flowing curves that pull you on, up and into this vast land. Tarmac so smooth that even the most infrequent and smallest of pebbles registers princess-and-the-pea high on the perineal Richter scale. Shimmering columns of leafy gold and red pacify winter’s sharpest breeze, whispering their encouragement. Space-rocket shaped silos sit immovably in rolling farmland. Rocking-chairs squeak on quiet porches. Skies have never been so blue.
And then you see it. A deer with its head facing the wrong way, passing a foot from your shin. A raccoon with no body, staring imploringly from the opposite lane. “Why me?” it pleads with its one remaining eye. A thousand cats, swept aside like rag dolls, their ghostly trajectories still hanging in the air. A pitbull, upturned and swollen by the sun into a ghoulish balloon. Hunched vultures squabble over rib-cage ceviche, cackling as a passing 4x4 almost adds you to their buffet.
These aren’t roads. They’re cemeteries. And with every unmarked grave, our own fragility comes into sharper focus. Raccoon, deer, cat, beaver... human? The eyes play tricks after a while, as exhaustion blurs the line between sub-conscious and conscious. Deer, stoat, weasel... me? Was that me, in that ditch? I thought I was better looking. But no, it couldn’t be me—I’m still in pain. If I was dead, I couldn’t feel that; couldn’t feel anything. No, I’m still here, at least for the next few miles.
To cycle is to move among death. It is always there, lying smashed up in a ditch, or painted white and chained to a railing. The trick is to let it sharpen, not intimidate you. To know that the grim reaper cycles on a tandem with all of us, but to keep riding in spite of it.